John C. Brennan, 87, studied, wrote of Lincoln assassination

February 22, 1996|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

John C. Brennan, whose fascination with Abraham Lincoln's assassination led to 30 years of research and writing on the subject, died of cancer Feb. 6 at Golden Oaks Nursing Home in Laurel. He was 87.

A Laurel resident since 1946, he retired as a personnel specialist for the Federal Reserve Board in 1963, the year that President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. That event stoked his interest in the Lincoln assassination.

In 1975, he was a charter member of the Surratt Society, which xTC promotes historical research and interpretation of the Surratt family home in Clinton, formerly Surrattsville.

Laurie Verge, executive officer of the Surratt Society, said, "He was an authority in the field of Lincoln assassination studies, and the Surratt House became a natural place for him to hang his hat. He inspired others to continue researching the events surrounding the assassination and had one of the largest active worldwide grapevines."

Known as Confederate sympathizers, the Surratts were involved in a plot to kidnap Lincoln. The plot evolved into the assassination and for her role in the event, Mary Elizabeth Surratt, widowed owner of the Surratt house, was hanged.

Mr. Brennan often contributed articles to the society's monthly newsletter, Surratt Courier.

His lasting scholarly contribution, according to Ms. Verge, was his comparison and analysis of the three transcripts of the trial of Mary Surratt and three co-conspirators, who also were hanged. He concluded that the transcript of court stenographer Benn Perley Poore was the most accurate.

Mr. Brennan was an energetic man who walked five miles a day until he was in his mid-80s. For many years, he joined other assassination buffs in the annual 80-mile ride that traced Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth's path from the back door of Ford's Theater in Washington to the Surratt House.

"It was a tradition with him that he took every new director of Ford's Theater on the trip as sort of an initiation," said a nephew, George B. McCeney of Sparks.

Mr. Brennan also was a founder of the Preservation Society of Tudor Hall, the Harford County home of the Booth family.

He was a member of the Laurel Historical Society, which named its library after him last year.

He also wrote a weekly column on historical subjects and etymology for the Laurel News Leader during the 1960s and 1970s, and had published articles in the Maryland Historical Magazine and the St. Mary's County Historical Magazine.

A native of Charleston, S.C., he was a 1930 graduate of the Citadel and earned a law degree in 1937 from what is now the George Washington University law school. During World War II, he was an officer in the Army Air Forces and was discharged in 1945 with the rank of captain.

Services were held Saturday.

He is survived by another nephew, James B. McCeney of Kensington.

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